On Tuesday night, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts presented opening night of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2015 musical School of Rock. The musical is based on and featured all the original songs from the 2003 movie by the same name, plus 14 new songs written specifically for the show by Andrew Lloyd Weber. One of the draws for this musical was the first-ever all children’s rock band, and as one colleague pointed out, one can imagine that this musical will be performed by high schools across the country for years to come.
The School of Rock book, the spoken and non-words dialog, is by Julian Fellowes with lyrics by Glenn Slater. It was directed by Laurence Connor and choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter. The simple but very beautiful and versatile set was designed by Anna Louizos who also designed the costumes.
The play opened with a short performance of I’m Too Hot for You by the rock band No Vacancy, comprised of characters straight out of a stereotypical 1980s rock band, with long hair and studded, skin-tight leather pants. The leading character, Dewey, played by Rob Colletti, formed this band and at the end of the set got fired because he is such a bad performer. Finding himself unemployed and broke sets up the premise for the rest of the play.
Dewey is a free-loader and unsuccessful at everything he has tried to accomplish during his entire life. He dreams of competing in the Battle of the Bands and becoming a rock star. He lives with his long-time friend Ned (Matt Bittner) and Ned’s current girlfriend, (Emily Borromeo). Finding himself unemployed, he pretends to be Ned and accepts a temporary teaching job at the private Horace Green Preparatory School.
Appearing in almost every scene, the role of Dewey appears to be exhausting. He runs, sings, dances, climbs over furniture and rocks out from start to finish. Although Colletti does all this very well, his John Belushi approach was not always convincing. Dewey is always late to class, but soon endears himself to the young students and, although he can not teach them the subjects required, he teaches them a lot about music and self-assurance. Through the process, he creates what the kids name the School of Rock band.
The set was amazing, the lighting spectacular and the kids in the show were truly talented and lively. The production was well rehearsed and everything ran extremely smoothly but the play was also very predictable, and Act One felt sluggish and that it would never end. When intermission did finally roll around it felt like it should have been the end. The choreography for the kids consisted basically of two movements. One was executed during the repetitive phrase “Stick it to the man” and the other was hopping in place and around the stage like rabbits. Perhaps Hunter was limited by the dance skills of the children, but based on what they did accomplish by climbing on, over and jumping off of their desks, I do not think that their lack of talent was the problem.
The script was filled with every present day talking point from every minority group possible. The writers worked very hard not to leave anyone out. There was a same-sex male married couple who adopted a black girl, a single black man who adopted a red headed and the stereotypical over-protective, and overly busy parents. It was odd, therefore, in the scene where several of the children were singing about how their parents do not listen, that there were only fathers represented. As in the film, there was an effeminate young man who became the band’s costume designer (Billy) and a bossy girl (Summer) was designated as the band manager.
The pace picked up for Act Two with more rock band playing by the kids, a moving scene between Dewey and school’s Principle portrayed by the extremely talented Lexie Dorset Sharp, and Dewey’s ruse being uncovered. Dewey works out a way to enter the kid rock band into the Battle of the Bands, falls in love with the Principle and everything ended happily. The show concluded with two songs by Dewey and the School of Rock band, which unfortunately we had already heard several times during the show.
School of Rock is designed to be successful and will be carried along, and rightly so, by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name. It is highly entertaining and for most of the time, high energy Audiences will love it because everyone is represented, and it is always a treat to see such talented kids perform. It is a smoothly run production, but not without flaws – especially the pacing of Act One. For me, the movie was much better.
The amazing cast of kids included Olivia Bucknor, Theodora Silverman, Cameron Trueblood, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Caron Hodges, Grier Burke, Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton, Vincent Molden, Huxley Westemeier, Theo Michell-Penner, Lara Nemirovsky, and Gabriella Uhl.
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Featured image: Cast of School of Rock – Photo: Matthew Murphy